Sunday, 22 March 2015

Hope for Lent, part II...


Part II of Hope for Lent continues. I can't remember why I called this series "hope for Lent" now since it has grown in the telling but I suppose I'm drawing on fictional characters to make a point, ever present to us in Lent. We are fading. We are against the world, and the world hates us and at the end is Death. Since all we can do to fend off our destruction, at least for a while, is to hold fast to the traditions we have received and to put our trust in God. Tradition then received from the Apostles is about keeping forever present the lore and memory of Christ with us until He comes. There is much more to Christianity, in other words, than a transubstantiated sacrament.

By the time of the War of the Ring the Three Rings of the Elves had passed to three guardians; Elrond, who kept Vilya; Galadriel, who kept Nenya, and Gandalf, who kept Narya. Each of these persons represents a different, albeit interpenetrating, manifestation of tradition. Gandalf is a Maia, an angelic spirit of great power and wisdom. Sent to Middle-earth by divine ordinance to contest the power of Sauron, he came from over the Sea with four companions. Disembarking at the Grey Havens, Círdan the Shipwright perceived in him the most faith and the greatest strength, albeit he seemed less than his brethren, clad in ashen grey and leaning on a staff, and committed to his keeping Narya, the ring of fire, with which he might rekindle hearts in a world that grows chill, setting the fire that succours in wanhope against the fire that lays waste. Unlike Elrond and Galadriel, Gandalf had no fixed abode and went hither and thither about the lands befriending Elves and Men. He yearned exceedingly for Valinor whence he came and so remained most faithful to his mission and at last returned alone of his companions into the joy of the West. He most represented vigilance of the three, and there may be more to the epithet "Grey Pilgrim" than may seem at first glance.


Galadriel was a high elf of a royal kindred of the Gnomes. Her history is garbled in legend but she was born in Valinor the daughter of Finarfin and came to Middle-earth and dwelt with Melian in Doriath. There she married Celeborn, kinsman of Thingol, and ere the end of the First Age passed over the Blue Mountains into Eriador where she befriended the the Green Elves and ruled there a fiefdom. After the War of Wrath, those Gnomes that remained in Middle-earth founded Ost-in-Edhil nigh to the antient Dwarf mansions at Dwarrowdelf (which became Moria), and Galadriel removed thither. There the Rings of Power were wrought by the Gwaith-i-Mírdain, for which Sauron lusted, and the land was laid waste in the grievous war betwixt Sauron and the Gnomes; the doors of Dwarrowdelf were shut and Galadriel went east over the mountains into Lórinand, which became Lothlórien. At some point the Three Rings were divided lest Sauron rape them; Nenya was committed to Galadriel; Vilya and Narya were sent to Lindon to the keeping of the high king Gil-galad. Eventually they passed to Elrond and Círdan. After the humiliation of Sauron during the War of the Last Alliance, the Three were released from the dominion of the One and worked according to their purpose; as such, Lórinand became the fairest of all forests in the Hither Lands and was called Laurelindórenan in song, for the trees of that land recalled the memory of Laurelin the Golden whose likeness had long passed from this world. Together with Celeborn, Galadriel is said to have "fought the long defeat" over the years. It has never been clear to my mind what she means by this. It could be that she is alluding to her own exile and that the ring she holds is impotent to bring about an anamnesis of the West beyond her own narrow land; in this sense the long defeat is against inevitability and against the flowing streams of time. Or it could be in a more literal sense a war against Sauron. Since Galadriel most represented memory, as clear as Kheled-zâram as Gimli later said, of the three keepers, my mind leans to the former interpretation. There was always going to be defeat, the Elves were destined to fade to a rustic folk of dell and wood, soon to forget and be forgotten; then comes the dark. It's like the epilogue of The Silmarillion, if it has passed from the high and beautiful to darkness and destruction, that was of old the fate of Arda Marred. Memory, wisdom and sorrow are all that remain yet thereby the beauty and poignancy of the Elves is not dimmed but enhanced.


Elrond Halfelven is the youngest of the three keepers, born towards the end of the Elder Days, of royal lineage. He holds the mightiest of the Three and his house is in Rivendell, the Last Homely House East of the Sea. Rivendell was founded during the War between Sauron and the Gnomes as a refuge (flight again) and thither many of the Gnomes of Eregion removed. After the destruction of the North Kingdom of the exiled Númenóreans in the ruinous wars with Angmar, the heirs of the king were raised in the House of Elrond and its chief treasures and heirlooms were brought to the keeping of the master of Rivendell. As the years rolled by and the shadow of the fear of Sauron grew, Rivendell remained stalwart in long years of trial and Elrond became mightiest in all wisdom, keeping the traditions of song and the telling of tales alive in the hall of fire. Not for naught did Aragorn say to the hobbits that the Tale of Tinúviel was known best and in full only by Elrond.

Of the three keepers, Elrond most represents the lore of Tradition. He also represents a bridge, a pontiff if you will. Aragorn calls Elrond the "oldest of our race," which implies that, as the twin brother of Elros, the first King of Númenor, Elrond Halfelven is also in a sense a Númenórean. It is highly significant then that as the eldest of Númenórean race the heirs of Númenor are taught in the House of Elrond. With the marriage of Aragorn and Arwen, when as Elessar Aragorn took up again the Kingship, the Children of Ilúvatar were united for the last time. Do you remember the conversation between Gimli and Éomer in Meduseld, about the Morning and the Evening? It was said that Galadriel, whose golden hair rivaled the light of the Sun, represented the morning; Arwen, daughter of Elrond, had raven hair and her countenance called to mind the antient beauty of Lúthien, represented the evening; she was the Undómiel ("evenstar") of her people. Gimli foreboded that both would pass away ere long, as indeed befell. With the downfall of Sauron at the end of the Third Age, the Three Rings and their keepers passed forever into the West. But the Tradition, as Gandalf said to Aragorn in the high passes of Mindolluin, would hereafter pass to Aragorn as King and his descendants. As basileus of a new, reunited Roman Empire, Aragorn was "King of the West Lands" and sole guardian of the traditions of his royal lineage. The dominion of Men was come and the vigilance, lore and memory of the West were committed to the heir of Númenor forever.

Art: John Howe and Ted Nasmith.

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